The San Jose Sharks went from struggling to hot in under 52 hours despite having fewer pictured stars Tuesday, Oct. 28. The thin line between a turnaround and the one win looking like a fluke was crossed in after 51 hours passed at the expense of the Colorado Avalanche.
The Sharks found a way to break a four-game losing streak in the hostile confines of the best team so far in the 2014-15 NHL season Sunday. It is unlikely they were overlooked by the Pacific Division rival Anaheim Ducks, and the game had plenty of intensity: 165 combined penalty minutes (PIM) including nine fighting majors and eight misconduct penalties.
San Jose still has not won a third period, but they held serve with a goal for and against in the final frame in Anaheim to preserve a 4-1 win. The hosts won seven more faceoffs but had three more turnovers (11-9 in giveaways and 3-4 in takeaways). Despite the four-possession deficit, the guests had three more shots on goal (37-34) and six more (24-18) through two periods in building a 3-0 lead. Both teams blocked 15 shots for the game.
Still, following that with any loss in Colorado would have kept doubts lingering. This host was more of a wounded animal—struggling so far in the 2014-15 NHL season but expected to fiercely defend its Central Division title.
The Ducks might have been due for a loss, but the Avalanche was due for a win. The Sharks were in high elevation playing their seventh game in 11 days and third in four days.
Still San Jose came out and dominated. It had a 23-8 edge in shots on goal in a first period that ended with a 1-0 lead thanks to the great net-minding skills of Semyon Varlamov. Joe Thornton fed Mirco Mueller on the point and Brent Burns tipped the rookie’s shot just before the mid-point of the first period.
Varlamov remained impervious well into the second period, helping his team erase the deficit just after the second television timeout of the second period. When Patrick Marleau could not hold the puck at the point on the power play, Jan Hejda got the puck to Erik Johnson who lifted a pass through the neutral zone that Alex Tanguay was able to beat Burns to the puck and turn around Logan Couture before undressing a scrambling Antti Niemi and patiently wait for his opening.
The Sharks responded by pelting Varlamov (18-9 shot edge in the period), but seemed to be running out of gas in the third period and had no shots and only two attempts in the first five minutes. The Avalanche got the first shot when Hejda got the puck in his own zone to Ryan O’Reilly (the 2014 Lady Byng winner who incidentally had his first penalty since the only one last season, also coming against Team Teal) who advanced it to Gabriel Landeskog. Burns pushed him deep but did not cut off the shot, and Niemi overplayed it.
Tommy Wingels came to the rescue not two minutes later, taking advantage of a John Mitchell giveaway. He then slid a beautiful neutral-zone pass between two defenders that Justin Braun shot off the post. It was cleaned up by Couture for the first official San Jose shot of the third.
From there, both teams fought to keep the score tied. Niemi had already shown highlight-reel saves before giving up the soft goal, but he was especially impressive in keeping the Sharks in the game. He stayed strong in two rounds of the shootout, not needing any more because both Marleau and Joe Pavelski found the back of the net in the first two rounds…suddenly, Varlamov was human.
If San Jose walks out with even a shootout loss, they could not hold another lead in the second half of the game and lost to another team lower in the standings. By contrast, even a shootout win gives the team two points with a superior performance for the second straight game: 46-35 edge in faceoffs, 1-6 in giveaways but 11-20 in takeaways, turning those seven additional possessions into 31 more attempts (84-53) and 18 more shots on goal (51-33) despite Colorado having 11 more blocks (18-7) and 15 more hits (26-11).